Though The Jewelry Box is the story of one particular little Black boy buying a Christmas present for his mother, by distributing this production online the San Francisco Playhouse has given us all a gift. Holiday season brings up a range of emotions; never more so than in the middle of a pandemic when we are likely isolated from the people with whom we’d most like to celebrate. This warm, human, and utterly heart-melting play is performed and co-written by Brian Copeland, who’s Not A Genuine Black Man still echos in my mind despite the dozens of solo shows I’ve seen since. Though there are storytellers who depict their assortment of characters with more physical distinction, Copeland has a singular flair with language and the ability to paint vivid and lasting images with his words. Moreover, he has a fantastic sense of humor and periodically draws on his stand-up experience to share a little secret with the audience as his adult self.
The Jewelry Box covers an early chapter in Copeland’s life, but it stands complete on its own. We’re in 1970s Oakland where a six year old Brian has spotted a wooden jewelry box he knows will make his Mom smile. His family had been forced to move four times in a short period and personal possessions had been left behind at each stop. He sets out to raise the $11.97 he needs to purchase the box, showing himself to be a tiny but mighty entrepreneurial spirit. We get to meet many of his neighbors — some more understanding than others — sketched out in detail with the colors filled in by mixing Copeland’s artistry with our own imagination.
David Ford directed the original production for The Marsh Theater. The intimacy of this project makes it well suited for the streaming environment where San Francisco Playhouse’s Artist Director Bill English did the editing. For this rendition, English balances mimicking the theater experience with more intense close ups. No set is necessary as Copeland builds his own landscape with some sound effects and lights fully focusing the picture. The choice of a slightly baggy primary colored striped shirt makes it easy for Copeland to embody his much younger self.
No reflection on all those theaters who will once again stage A Christmas Carol or A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but the San Francisco Playhouse deserves praise for finding such an appropriate fresh offering for this unique holiday season. Class and race play important supporting roles in The Jewelry Box, evergreen themes that have taken on renewed significance. Two COVID compliance officers kept Copland and the production team safe and a brand new Equity agreement made it possible for this to be seen online for a limited time. The final screenshot is a long “Heroes List”: a visual reminder that now more than ever we need to pull together and keep the performing arts healthy as well. The only element I dearly missed was the laughter of my fellow audience members. But I know for certain it was there.
The on-demand video stream of The Jewelry Box is available through Christmas day. Single tickets are $15-$100. Call 415-677-9596, or visit https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2020-2021-season/the-jewelry-box/. Subscriptions in support of the San Francisco Playhouse season may also be purchased.